A Rebuttal

By Keith Kloor | March 8, 2013 9:03 am

The cover story in the April issue of Discover is about the anti-GMO movement in Europe.

cover-image

I found it interesting but also narrowly centered on the opposition in Germany. For example, the piece neglects to discuss, much less mention, a widely publicized event last summer involving a UK government sponsored research lab. This featured UK scientists mounting a public campaign to dissuade anti-GMO protesters from destroying their research. It was unprecedented and powerfully effective. The clash between the two sides played out for weeks, made headlines around the world, and led to a public reexamination of the anti-biotech cause (at least in Britain). To me, any discussion today of the “crop wars” in Europe needs to include this watershed battle.

I also have a few other things to nitpick about the Discover article (which you can read for free, after registering at the site), but I’ll leave that for another day. Meanwhile, let me turn to a sidebar piece accompanying the feature. It is about the growing opposition to GMOs in the United States. In my opinion, this short article has major shortcomings. And I’m being polite when I say that.

When I drew attention to the piece via Twitter yesterday, there was near instantaneous shock and outrage to it from some scientists. Others also shook their heads in disbelief. This included Rachael Ludwick, a software developer who is passionate about science and agricultural issues. Ludwick is a smart, articulate communicator who participates frequently in science-based forums that focus on biotechnology. Initially, I had thought to express my own reservations about Discover’s sidebar piece. But then I asked Ludwick to offer a rebuttal, which follows below. 

******

The Discover headline was so promising: “Anti-GMO Grass-Roots Effort Gains Ground in U.S.” I hoped it would be about just how strange the alliances in the anti-GMO movement are. We have groups like the Environmental Working Group and the Union of Concerned Scientists working alongside organic industry boosters and organic food companies. And then there are the (louder and shriller ) groups that claim dire risks from GMO foods. So this opposition in the U.S.  is a topic that deserves closer examination.

Instead, what I found is a piece that repeated–almost without challenge–misleading claims about GMOs stated by anti-GMO activists. Most of these claims are at best half-truths. Let me be up front: I can’t write about everything I think is misleading in this piece. There’s just too much. But, there are a few ideas that are repeated uncritically which are far more interesting than this piece lets on.

Probably the most common claim of anti-GMO activists is that GMOs are untested and unsafe. Charles Benbrook, an organic proponent (why is a proponent of organic and opponent of GM merely labeled an “agricultural policy expert”?) is quoted in the story saying that the “science just hasn’t been done.” That’s just not true. There are hundreds upon hundreds of  studies. Genetically engineered crops are some of the few foods tested before they come on the market and all the data is on the EPA’s website. This testing is not typically the case for non-biotech foods. In the 1950s, the kiwi fruit was introduced to the U.S. without testing. We’ve since learned that it’s allergenic. More recently, new celery varieties have resulted in contact rashes in workers due to increased amounts of natural toxicants called psolarens (similarly, new potato varieties sometimes develop excess toxic solanine).

But there’s a kernel of truth behind the not tested claim. David Schubert (who is cited in the piece as a biologist without noting his association with the anti-GMO campaigner Jeffrey Smith) is very careful when he says: “no significant safety testing is required by FDA.” That is absolutely true. All safety testing done on GMO crops is voluntary. But even though it’s voluntary, every company has complied! The lack of mandatory testing does unnecessarily worry people: what good is the FDA if it can’t even require safety testing for food? This is perhaps why the American Medical Association recommended mandatory safety testing, despite also saying current GMO foods are safe and labeling is unnecessary. Pre-market testing should probably be mandatory, but it’s just not the case that GMOs are untested before going to market.

GMO foods are also subject to repeated studies by scientists after they come on the market for toxicity and other risks. Overwhelmingly, these studies show no problems for human health. You wouldn’t know that from the Discover piece, since it chose to mention problems found by a small minority of researchers, often heavily criticized. The piece wiggles around this issue by noting it’s hard to prove a causal link in humans. The reality is that links aren’t even proved in animals.

But what about those “superweeds” mentioned in the piece? And that toxic Roundup? There’s context missing here too. Roundup is indeed toxic; to most plants and marginally to some animals; but it is one of the safer herbicides we have. While the term “superweeds” is not one scientists use, preferring phrases like “herbicide resistant,” they are a real problem. We have seen an increase in weeds resistant to glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup). But what the Discover piece is not telling us is that this is normal and expected: any herbicide used heavily for years will naturally select for weeds that can survive it. The most important missing context though, can be found in this graph, which shows cases of herbicide resistant weeds, grouped by site of action.

One herbicide deserves special mention. Atrazine (a member of the triazine family) doesn’t harm corn, so it’s been used for decades to control weeds in corn fields. Unsurprisingly, that class of herbicides has had significant weed resistance for much longer than Roundup. The point here is emphatically not to deny the problem of herbicide-resistant weeds. That is a real problem. But it’s not a problem with genetically engineered crops per se, but with management practices. Roundup Ready crops could have been banned ten years ago and farmers would still have weeds resistant to herbicides. You just wouldn’t hear about them from anti-GMO campaigners.

There’s a real story in the alliance of anti-GMO groups and how, in the United States, they are using the political system, instead of vandalism (as in Europe) to advance their agenda. This story isn’t it; instead, it prefers to repeat myths and exaggerations about GMO foods in a one-sided manner.

There are some good questions about GMO activism springing up in the U.S. For example, why do organic food growers care so much about labeling GMO ingredients when transgenic crops are not allowed in organic products?  Why is the anti-GMO campaign only now gaining traction in the United States? What’s behind that? Those would be interesting questions to explore in a story.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs, select
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology, GMOs
  • Tom Scharf

    Good post.

    After you’ve been around the block you can read lines like this and laugh:

    “But since these products aren’t labeled or tested by impartial scientists…”

    Hmmmm…wonder what “impartial” means here? Possibly defined as scientists who only conclude GMO’s are dangerous? It is a standard disinformation tactic. Infer testing isn’t being done, but use a vague qualifier that eliminates everything you disagree with. Obviously testing is being done, they talk about it two lines later.

    Time to stop reading after you get to stuff like this.

    “Today, about 75 percent of processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients…”

    “There is no credible evidence that GMO foods are safe to eat…”

    Huh?????

    Obviously KK has to be careful here, but this kind of garbage should never make it to print in a science magazine. I’m not saying they should not have a voice, but it should at least be held up to some kind of standard. On the other hand, they come off as buffoons, so it isn’t all bad.

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    All you have to do is the opposite of whatever the SWPLs are doing and you’ll be ok. Their instinct for being wrong is amazingly consistent.

  • Schratboy

    Who needs to dwell on GMO myths when their most egregious acts are conniving and deviously hiding in plain sight crowing GMO-normal-food-sameness whilst simultaneously prosecuting contaminated farmers for infringing upon their patented trait? GMOs are the seed of an immoral industry and sham science, guarding their flanks with legal infantry, commandos and capital artillery.

    • http://pdiff.weebly.com/ Pdiff

      Wha???

      • sandstorm

        what are you trying to say?

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      So, if I’m understanding what you write here, it’s fine for activists to exaggerate and mislead about GMOs because some people are bad actors? Note, I think you exaggerate, but even if these claims were perfectly true, surely activists should focus on those and not make things up?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-Cromie/100000271964471 Carol Cromie

        The main disadvantage of many ge seeded products is the tendency to continue the traits overwhelmingly to the next generation. Farmers used to collect seed for the next crop, and are penalized severely by patent owning companies. We just can’t be thrifty anymore.

        • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

          In the case of corn, they did not actually tend to save seed because hybrids have been improving yields dramatically for most of the 20th century. But I’m not sure how that’s relevant to whether it’s okay to mislead about GMO safety in lieu of talking about actual problems in the agriculture industry (that easily apply to non-GMO production in many cases …)

    • Farmer Guy

      Can you give us an instance where a biotech company has sued a farmer for pollen drift?

  • http://twitter.com/fionagilsenan Fiona Gilsenan

    Well put Rachel, and nice to see you getting a broader platform for your common sense and knowledge. I always read your tweets and comments with interest.

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      Thanks! See you on twitter and elsewhere. :)

  • ddimick

    It intrigues there was no mention in the article of Mark Lynas’ public mea culpa in early January at the Oxford Farming Conference on his years of mistaken opposition to GMOs. It was well publicized at the time. This below from Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth…(there were many others)

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/new-shade-of-green-stark-shift-for-onetime-foe-of-genetic-engineering-in-crops/

    I guess to include this development would have undermined the premise of the “Crop Wars” article. To wit:

    http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/lecture-to-oxford-farming-conference-3-january-2013/

    “I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment….”

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      To be fair, the sidebar that is of greatest concern is about the United States and Mark Lynas isn’t really a big name here. I can understand them leaving that out.

  • Lynn Dewees

    Personally, I don’t really care one way or the other about GMO, but why are the companies that make it so afraid of labeling? Why shouldn’t people be allowed to know what they are eating?

    • jh

      ONE: As Keith pointed out, there are already non-GMO options clearly labeled: organic.

      TWO: Since there is no credible evidence that GMOs are harmful, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to label.

      THREE: I don’t want to pay for food companies to do the accounting.

      The objective of the GMO labeling movement is to create a scare that drives sales of the much pricier and higher-margin organic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ena.valikov Ena Valikov

    Hello Rachel. How are you?
    GMO foods are also subject to repeated studies by scientists after they come on the market for toxicity and other risks. Overwhelmingly, these studies show no problems for human health.

    Do you realize that the first link takes you to:

    Forbidden

    You don’t have permission to access /genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/ on this server.

    Additionally, a 403 Forbidden error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

    Apache/2.2.17 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.2.17 OpenSSL/0.9.8e-fips-rhel5 mod_auth_passthrough/2.1 mod_bwlimited/1.4 FrontPage/5.0.2.2635 Server at http://www.biofortified.org Port 80

    And the second link to the review in no way shows safety of GMOs in people?

    There are several reasons for that.
    1. You need to read the entire article and all the studies in the review, half of which are shitty sloppy industrial studies
    2. Half the studies cited do indeed suggest harm
    3. None of the studies are on humans, and thus by definition can not demonstrate lack of harm to human beings.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ena.valikov Ena Valikov

      The five studies using maize (Hammond et al., 2004,2006a,b; Mackenzie et al., 2007; Malley et al., 2007) found no differences
      between the diets containing GM material and the ones
      which did not. These studies concluded that the maize grain tested
      were as safe and nutritious as existing commercial maize hybrids.
      See dissection of sloppy studies here.
      http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/03/07/the-propaganda-mill/#.UTrAaByG2n0

      Maize Bt-MON810 containing Cry1Ab protein Steinke et al. (2010).
      Not specific funding mentioned Dairy cows 25 months (100 weeks)Milk composition and yield2 groups (n = 18); in total 36 individuals.Small changes in milk composition and body weight in GM-fed cowsbut fall within normal ranges Safe, no long term effects. Bt-MON810and its isogenic control are equivalent
      Clearly a study designed to study milk yield has nothing to say on human health impacts.

      Soybean Glyphosate-tolerantsoybean (event not mentioned)
      Daleprane et al.(2009a). State of Rio de Janeiro Research Assistance Foundation (FAPERJ). Nationa lCouncil for Scientificand Technological Development (CNPq) Rats 455 days (65) Growth. Blood composition 3 groups (n = 10 male rats); in total 30 individuals. GM group and organic group weight the same, higher than control group. Lower protein intake in control group.Growth, albumin, serum similar in all three groups No differences between non-GM and GM groups. Soybean can be used in animal diets as a protein source No isogenic line used
      How do limited findings in three groups of 10 rats imply safety of ingestion in millions of people?

      Soybean Glyphosate-tolerant soybean (event not mentioned)
      Daleprane et al. (2010). Brazilian foundations FAPERJ and CNPq
      Rats 455 days (65) Aorta wall tissue. Cholesterol,triaclyglycerol, insulin, glucose and testosterone 3 groups (n = 10 male rats); in total 30 individuals. Lower body weight and fat mass in control
      group No differences observed between non-GM and GM groups in
      all parameters. Non- GM and GM groups substantially equivalent
      No isogenic line used
      How do measurements of insulin, glucose and testosterone tell us anything about pancreatic or liver disease, as just one example in people?

      and so on.
      ———————————————————————————
      On the other hand these studies raise questions which have not been addressed at all.

      Soybean Glyphosate-tolerant soybean (CP4 EPSPS) Malatesta et
      al. (2002a). Ultrastructural morphetrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocytes nuclei Irregularly shaped nuclei, higher number of nuclear pores numerous small fibrillar centres and abundant dense fibrillarc omponent nucleoplasmic and nuclear splicing factor more abundant in GM

      Fed mice higher metabolic rate and molecular trafficking
      (mechanisms unknown)

      Soybean Glyphosate-tolerant soybean (CP4 EPSPS) Malatesta et
      al. (2003). Ultrastructural morphetrical and immunocytochemical analyses of pancreatic acinar cells nuclei. Decrease of the shape index and the fibrillar centresdensity and increase of the pore density, the perichromatin granule density, the percentage of fiibrillarcentres in GM-fed mice. Lower Labeling for the nucleoplasmic splicing factors A diet containing significant amounts of GM food seems to influence the pancreatic metabolism

      Soybean Glyphosate-tolerant soybean (CP4 EPSPS)
      Malatesta et al. (2008). Mice 2 years (104)
      Histocytochemistry of hepatocytes 2 groups (n = 10 female mice); in total 20 individuals. Different expression of proteins related to hepatocyte metabolism, stress response, calcium signaling and mitochondria in Gm fed mice. Indications of reduced metabolic rate in GM-fed mice GM soybean can influence some liver
      features during ageing

      Moreover, preliminary EM analyses of hepatocytes and
      pancreatic acinar cells revealed smaller, irregularly shaped cell nuclei containing increased amounts of heterochromatin and perichromatin granules (ribonucleoprotein structural components involved in transport and/or storage of already spliced premRNA) in T lambs (Fig. 3).
      http://www.biosafety.ru/ftp/Three-yearlongitudinalstudyBt176.pdf

      Soybean Glyphosate-tolerant soybean (CP4 EPSPS)

      Vecchio et al. (2004).

      Enlarged vesicles of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum,
      Decrease in the number of nuclear pores. Reduced labeling during the 2–8 month interval. Increase in perichromatin granules
      in Sertoli cells and in spermatocytes of GM fed mice A
      transient transcriptional decrease during the 2–8 months interval. Most of the effects reversible. Causes of the alteration not established, especially because glyphosate residues might influence transcriptional process

      Maize Bt Kilic and Akay, 2008.
      Granular degeneration level in 10% of examined sections was
      maximum (level 4) in Group III
      Liver Focal infiltration Group III : 7/14 8/16
      Congestion: 10/14 7/16
      Granular degeneration
      9/14 13/16
      Nuclear border change 10/14 13/16
      Kidney Enlargement in parietal layer of Bowman’s
      capsule 6/14 5/11
      Tubular degeneration 13/14 9/11
      http://www.somloquesembrem.org/img_editor/file/Kilic%26Akay08BtMaizeFeedingStudy.pdf

      Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects
      in Goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offspring

      R. Tudisco et al.

      On the contrary, in blood and milk of treated goats,
      fragments both of the 35S promoter and the CP4 EPSPS gene were detected. These fragments were also found in treated kids with significant detection of the 35S promoter in liver, kidney and blood, and of the CP4 EPSPS gene fragment in liver, kidney, heart and muscle. A significant increase in lactic dehydrogenase,
      mainly concerning the lactic ehydrogenase-1 isoenzyme was found in heart, skeletalmuscle and kidney of treated kids, thus suggesting a change in the local production of the enzyme. Finally, no significant differences were detected concerning kid body and organ weight.
      http://www.news.unina.it/pdf/8857.pdf

      The effect of multigenerational diet containing genetically modified triticale on immune system in mice.

      M Krzyżowska, M Wincenciak, A Winnicka, A Baranowski, K Jaszczak, J Zimny, M Niemiałtowski

      The safety assessment of genetically modified (GM) food and feed is performed to identify the possible effects upon animal and human health, also the long-term, multigenerational influence upon functioning of different organs and systems, such as the immune system. In this study C57BL/6J mice were fed for five consecutive generations with pellets containing 20% of conventional triticale grain (control) vs.
      pellets containing 20% of the transgenic triticale grain resistant to BASTA herbicide (experimental). The F5 experimental animals showed enlarged inguinal and axillary lymph nodes, but not spleens, and increased WBC counts in blood (but within the norm for Mus musculus). Immunophenotyped cell suspensions
      derived from spleens, inguinal and axillary lymph nodes and PBMCs from blood showed the significant decrease in the percentage of T cells in spleen and lymph nodes and the B cells in lymph nodes and blood of the F5 experimental mice in comparison to the control F5 mice.
      Immunoblotting analysis of IL-2, IL-4, IL-10, IL-12, IL- 6, IFN-gamma levels in serum showed significantly increased IL-2 levels and decreased IL-6 levels in the F5-experimental mice sera. No significant changes in the levels of IgE in sera in both mice groups
      were observed. The obtained results indicate that multigenerational use of feeds for rodents containing the GM-triticale leads to expansion of the B cell compartment in the secondary lymphoid organs, but it is not caused by malignant processes or the allergic response.

      ——————————————————————–

      So, Rachael. Where in this study did you find any degree of certainty of safety of GMO foods to human beings, again?

      I can’t see it

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      I’m pretty sure you’re the same Ena Valikov who comments on Kevin Folta’s blog — the profile photo is the same. If so, you should know I’m not going to engage with your Gish Galloping, insulting comments. I’ve seen how you treat Kevin Folta and I have absolutely no interest in engaging.

      As for biofortified, it inconveniently started having technical troubles yesterday and I don’t know why (I don’t run the site). When I wrote the post it was up. I have a copy of the GENERA study database though, if anyone would like a copy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ena.valikov Ena Valikov

        Rachael. I actually consider Kevin to be a good friend, and I do believe he knows that ( though admitting it publicly is a pretty tricky thing under these circumstances). What I respect the hell out of in Kevin is that he is indeed a scientist, who discusses specific discreet science. Whether we agree or disagree is not that important in the grand scheme of things– the discussions are illuminating as hell.

        I don’t blame you, Rachel, for refusing to engage on a biotech/ medical issue. I sure would feel like a fish out of water trying to discuss computers, but please don’t use silly excuses to avoid the discussion of SCIENCE you are clearly not trained to discuss without an intimate understanding of biotechnology and medicine, except by regurgitating back what someone spoon fed you.

        The truth is that you do not have a scientific rebuttal to the scientific questions I raised here on Discover, and you don’t have a rebuttal to the questions I raised on Kevin’s blog.
        The issue of the crummy safety ASSURANCE studies by Hammond et al hasn’t been touched with a ten foot pole.

        Malatesta’s work still stands and has not been dis-proven scientifically by anyone, because clearly if you use the idea that the work is flawed because the group didn’t use an isogenic line, you will have to discard half the studies in the review you cited.

        The question of shameful lack of empirical evidence to back up claims of absence of medical harm to people or animals ingesting these crops is the elephant in the room you are not prepared to touch. It was duly noted.

        Cheers. Have a great life.

        • Kevin Folta

          Hi Ena. Gosh, I do consider you a friend too. We have total internet Stockholm Syndrome. I think it is because you are clearly sharp and it is just a matter of time until you flip. You have to stop using that Maletesta work as evidence. It can’t be “dis-proven” because there’s nothing to prove in an experiment with one critical mistake– they don’ use the isogenic soy in their test, they use wild soy. The backgrounds in the experimental soy and the control are completely different. We know soy makes isoflavones and tons of other allergens and biologically active metabolites. It is not a good comparison.

          Be nice! I know I can be abrasive too, and have been, but it just makes these forums intolerable. Now that I have tons more work to do in my new position I don’t get to do this very often– and I think I’m much happier!

          • http://www.facebook.com/ena.valikov Ena Valikov

            Hi Kevin. Congrats on the award for post doc mentoring. I am proud of you.

            You have to stop using that Maletesta work as evidence. It can’t be “dis-proven” because there’s nothing to prove in an experiment with one critical mistake– they don’ use the isogenic soy in their test, they use wild soy.

            Oh, come on Kevin. The scientific way to disprove Malatesta’s work is to replicate the experiment using an isogenic line of soybeans. We do have EMs and immuno-histopathologists in this country, don’t we?
            …. the methods are published…..it isn’t rocket science,

            Haven’t been to Stockholm yet, and knock on wood haven’t been on a hijacked vehicle yet. If it was going to happen it would have happened in transit into or out of Israel, but alas we had fantastic security
            but I do get what you are saying. :)

        • Farmer Guy

          “The question of shameful lack of empirical evidence to back up claims of absence of medical harm to people or animals ingesting these crops is the elephant in the room you are not prepared to touch.”

          Ironically, you post this while conveniently ignoring the anecdotal evidence in the form of trillions of meals containing GMOs ingested by humans and the mind-boggling amount of GMO grain fed to the planet’s livestock over the last 18 years- which have still yet to produce a SINGLE instance of negative health effect. Its duly noted that you have elected to ignore this elephant in the room.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      The site was down for almost 2 days due to a server memory issue. It is now back up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ena.valikov Ena Valikov

    I am seeing the same old same old.

    No actual science in the article itself, nor in the comments

    –in a science magazine, no less.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZqPoriYXho

  • Mike Bendzela

    It’s becoming clear that, regardless of the evidence, the argument for labeling is getting more traction and is probably going to be won eventually. I don’t care one way or the other whether GE products are labeled–I already know a lot about them. I think genetic engineering is one of those advances that make it interesting to be alive in the 21st century–yet it seems to me the industry is making a big mistake by not embracing the labeling movement

    I’m still convinced that labeling foods as GE will have the opposite effect the activists intend: It will point out as clear as day that people are eating ingredients from genetically engineered plants and going on to lead healthy, normal lives. It amounts to the best advertising one could hope for.

    The more industry resists and drags their feet, the more it’s going to look like they have something to hide. This is sadly how the politics work.

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      I’m actually glad Whole Foods is going this route and I hope they can be lobbied to put more useful labeling in place: either per trait labels or even labels on a broader variety of agricultural practices (pesticides used, water use, etc.)

      As for biofortified, they went down yesterday and I don’t know why. I’ve talked to the site operators (I don’t run the site) on twitter and they’re working on it.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Geez, I go on vacation for a couple of days and *this* happens? Alas. Glad to see the team with plant science knowledge is all over it. Thanks for collecting that–I would have missed it.

    And I’m delighted that you highlighted Rachel’s response. She’s thoughtful and has worked very hard to find good information on this topic. It’s a great example of what people interested in this arena would be able to do if the fog of misinformation wasn’t so heavy.

    There’s so many people who for some reason think YouTube is appropriate for a science debate that it’s hard to get the facts out.

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      I wondered where you were! I thought you’d be all over the story. But I guess we all need a break. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.dickson.370515 Richard Dickson

    The GMO hysteria ignores the entire history of human domesticated plants and animals. Every single food crop and most food animals have been genetically modified by humans over many thousands of years via selective breeding. Take corn…or maize as the Europeans and Amerindians call it. It was genetically modified over thousands of years from a small seed tassel. Original wild corn is still available today, and looks nothing like the large corn husks we are used to seeing in the grocery stores. It more resembles the tip of a wheat shaft. But over thousands of years, AmerIndians genetically modified it into a significant food crop, now grown over large parts of the world. The corn we plant today cannot even pollinate itself without human intervention. It cannot survive for long without human agricultural techniques. There are countless other examples of early human GMO work on other plants and animals: wheat, pigs, cattle, rice, barley, rye, etc.

    Get over the GMO hysteria. Scientists are only speeding up a process that humans have been using thousands of years…and if it weren;’t for GMO crops, India would be starving today, as GMO rice prevented Malthusian predictions from coming true and greatly multiplied the rice harvests in Asia to feed the growing population there.

    Quit fighting science. It is the only way we are going to continue to advance in this world, and keep increasing the quality of life for all of humanity. We can’t retrograde civilization back to the days of living in mud huts and subsisting entirely off the land as individuals. Industrial agriculture is here to stay. People are expanding the population of mega-cities, and more food is needed as a result.

    • http://www.facebook.com/james.mcintire James E McIntire

      Richard Dickson, I would like to quarrel with you on one point. Your
      are skirting the issue when you say that genetic modification has taken place for centuries. It is true only in the scene of selective breeding techniques. My grandfather would survey his crop so he could harvest a portion of a field for seed for the next year. He mostly looked for more favorable yields. He might even trade some grain with his neighbors to select for some traits his crop didn’t display that year. He would observe favorable traits in his herd so to choose those animals that displayed what he would interpret as less work or more profits and breed for that through selective breeding. (which bull to introduce to which cow) Yes in the truest sense of the word he would alter or modify the gene set or at least
      modify how a gene displayed a trait.

      No but that is not what we are talking about here. When you
      crossbreed species that were never meant to be breed in the first place you are practicing modern GE. Inserting a cauliflower gene into a corn or soybean plant is not what has been done scene the beginning of time. Yes that plant might display the desired trait you were looking for but what else happened to that plant. Is it harmful to the public that ingest it? You don’t know. You don’t know until you follow the data on several generations of those that consume that plant. Those studies do not exist. If you disagree please quote the study. Most studies are done by the very company that is looking for an outcome. It’s the proverbial “fox holding the keys to the hen house”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulcshipley Paul Shipley

    When I read just how wrong Discover magazine have got this I am much more likely to pick up something else on the news stand. Countries that are crying out for these crops to feed their starving people while the west relaxes back in their armchairs pretending to be so righteous.

  • Loren Eaton

    “This featured UK scientists mounting a public campaign to dissuade anti-GMO protesters from destroying their research. It was unprecedented and powerfully effective.”
    Keith, in terms of communicating in a calm, rational manner about the science around GMOs, I agree that this is a good thing. I know some people at Rothamsted and they are good, knowledgeable scientists. However, we in industry, universities and government research agencies should NEVER have to ask for our research NOT to be vandalized. In almost every case, these activities easily rise to the level of a felony.

  • BGills

    Genetically modified organisms do pose risks, as do organisms that have been altered through hybridization. Even natural selection has had some dangerous or undesirable results. It would seem the greatest risks are when modified organisms cross paths, or contaminate each others genetic lines. When naturally evolved organisms cross paths with a hardier modified, could we loose the slowly evolved version altogether?

    We’ve seen undesirable effects, for instance, in the hybridization of animals like dogs. “Pure breeds” are often afflicted with early onset of age related illnesses, not to mention some behavioral issues. Regression, or reversion, in hybrid lines can be fairly rapid, but I haven’t seen much data when it comes to reversion in genetically altered plant lines. Letting the genie out of the bottle is a very real concern when it comes to these short-cut methods. Natural selection can take millions of years, hybrids decades or thousands, but genetically modified organisms can be created in an instant, relatively speaking of coarse. Should caution be exercised? Without a doubt! Should people act like lawless mobs on a witch hunt? Certainly not!
    Real science is purposefully slow, in order to avoid unintended consequences. Much like a Medical Doctor’s oath “to due no harm,” as long as safeguards are put in place, man can benefit greatly from genetic research. Caution should be the focus for those on both sides of this argument.

  • jerry

    We overuse fluoride in our water supply, toothpaste, etc.. We are told that it is safe as well. However, nobody knows the true issues that fluoride can cause
    because there are no studies on it. Point is ignorance is among us and
    if nothing is done we will be praying to large corporations in a few
    years.

  • Larry V

    So has Discover ever published an apology for their dishonest, unscientific articles about atrazine? I discontinued my subscription after their articles about evil atrazine and the wonderful Tyrone Hayes. Not only have real scientist not been able to replicate Tyrone’s research, his bizarre behavior is a good indicator of the quality of his work.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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